In the thick of the woods, hiding something small just waiting to be discovered. Lead children into the arms of nature will broaden their horizons and help them to become complete persons. Here are five things you will learn by interacting with nature:JOY: The irregular force of the wind blowing through the leaves will teach your kids the joy of the subtle differences between sounds that reach their ears. The change of seasons their eyes light up with each new surprise. The smell of wood or a skunk can excite even the youngest explorer and teach the effects of wind direction and humidity. The rocks and branches have many shapes, sizes and textures. When you begin to appreciate the diversity in their feet, each output will be an occasion of joy in nature.
SHARING: If you talk to your children that you do together in the face of nature, they will learn the important skills to share. Sit on a log, and see a tree, a blade of grass, a grasshopper or the clouds together and talk about what you see and hear. If you want to be quiet, you can talk while you walk in the woods or meadows. The woods are an excellent environment in which to learn to share their experiences with parents or friends. They can also draw a picture of their favorite natural place – another creative way to share their experiences.
REALIZATION: Give your children tasks in nature. Start with simple things like find a pine cone or acorn. Then move on to more difficult challenges like finding three different lichens and mosses and insects. Follow their times. It makes no sense drown business impossible. They should have fun while they complete a task successfully and learn something new. This will instill in them a sense of positive pride.
CURIOSITY: Together with children, plant flowers in the garden and tomatoes. Let me work the land, put the seeds and then water. Not only you’ll grow your tomatoes, but their curiosity will grow dramatically. Ask how their plants are in bloom and you’ll see their pride and curiosity. Will run regularly to check their garden plants. Learn how plants affect the soil, climate and insects. Similarly, making them simple questions about the birds and the landscape along a path, every time you go around and keep their eyes open are growing their curiosity. Soon you will ask questions to which you yourself look for an answer because it is too difficult.
GRATITUDE: When you get your child walk along a river or a lake, or just rain, surely sooner or later address the issue of water. When they discovered how to work sources, much better appreciation for the glass of water they need to survive. Discover how each part of the ecosystem are linked together and develop a sense of gratitude for our relationship with nature. If you have the opportunity to walk with you in the desert or in a dry environment, will grow even further their appreciation for the main elements of nature, just like water.
"The Geography of Childhood: Why Children Need Wild Places"
I read "The Geography of Childhood: Why Children Need Wild Places," written by Gary Paul Nabhan and Stephen Trimble, for my American Studies 401T Culture & Nature course, and presented chapters 1-3 to my class. Below is my PowerPoint presentation along with my notes. (Click on image to enlarge PowerPoint slide.)
"THE GEOGRAPHY OF CHILDHOOD"
Gary Paul Nabhan & Stephen Trimble
"A CHILD'S SENSE OF WILDNESS"
Chapter 1 by Nabhan
Children's outlook on the world differs from adults by:
- Unlike the home, children see nature differently than adults
- Children can make sense of things more clearly, rather than overlooking and taking things for granted like adults do
- On road trips, Nabhan's son's mind was on the destination and what was around him
- Nabhan's son didn't like construction he saw; he said construction takes too much earth away
- Adults look far away at landscapes as a whole; children look immediately before themselves by digging, playing, etc.
- Nabhan's sons photos were close ups of lizards and rocks, while his own were of landscapes
The nest and the playground:
- Perhaps the best thing in nature that symbolizes childhood is a bird's nest
- Nest: symbolizes the comfort that is found in prenatal development, or the womb
- Children retract to comfort in nature, whether it is through fascination with the nest in the natural world, or by playing on the playground in the built environment
- Children like playgrounds because there are places on playgrounds that are enclosed spaces with vistas, where children can look out from and see what's going on around them while feeling safe; it's genetically programmed in humans to seek comfort through enclosed spaces with vistas
- In nature, people find places like this where they can see the outside world from a protected place, like from a fort with a broad landscape before them
- Playgrounds are primarily the place most children play; playgrounds are structured play with boundaries and no vegetation
- How does structured play versus play without boundaries affect children?
More space = more creativity:
- Naturalist Franklin Burroughs says, it's "better to let kids be a hazard to nature, and let nature be a hazard to them." And Nabhan says, playing in nature "allows children to be part of the tribe of children." Until age 7, playing is children's main form of communication. With those quotes and fact in mind...
- Are tree limbs better for a child to play on than plastic slides? If so, why?
- More space, and space without boundary, gives children more room to develop talents through trial and practice, so we must find ways to allow children to play, climb and fall
- Because playing without boundary is so vital for the prosperity of a child's growth and development, and learning habitat, Nabhan argues that a child's right to play is the same as adults' First Amendment right to speech
Learning in urban areas vs. learning in nature:
- Does building a fort in an alley with cardboard boxes give the same or similar experience as building a fort in nature with nature?
- We are genetically programmed to develop a sense of nostalgia for childhood. If nostalgia occurred for an adult who grew up near nature when smelling freshly crushed sage leaves, and nostalgia occurred for an adult who grew up in an urban environment when smelling an alley, would the different memories be significant? If so, how? Everyone's childhood is different, but what do these stark contrasts mean or represent?
- In 1900, 10% of the human population lived in cities of 1 million or more; by 2000, 38% of the world's population lived in cities of 1 million or more
- Confidence and social skills are gained through exploring. Children can explore in urban environments, but these environments are structured and have boundaries.
- Nabhan says that growing up in nature gives children a "healthy prospective about humankind."
- What do creatures in nature teach us, and what do pets teach us? Pets teach us to love and take care of people and animals, while creatures in nature teach us about diversity, which we'll get to later.
- Cities are constructed for only one species, nature exists for many species
- Something to keep in mind: cities are constructed; nature exists
- My thoughts: Nabhan argues that we should immerse ourselves more in nature because nature helps our growth and development, and learning, but he discusses how we have destroyed nature by building urban environments. Can we be part of nature without destroying it? If so, where does that happy medium lie?
"THE SCRIPTURE OF MAPS, THE NAMES OF TREES"
Chapter 2 by Trimble
The world as a broken puzzle:
- My thoughts: Children see the world as a broken puzzle; they spend their childhood trying to make sense of the world by putting it together piece by piece
- Robin Moore says in Childhood's Domain, that children use "the landscape as a medium for understanding the world by continually deconstructing/reconstructing it"
- Trimble says that every part of a child's environment is spoken for to meet the economic, social and cultural needs of the adult community
- Environmental psychologists Rachel and Stephen Kaplan say children first develop a sense of "nearby nature," by discovering and recognizing weed trees, vacant lots and ditch creatures
- Then, ecologist and environmentalist Aldo Leopold says, children develop a regard for wilderness, known as "land ethic."
- Ecologist Edith Cobb says "land ethic" develops into a "living ecological relationship between a person and a place."
- During the age 5 to 7 shift, Cobb says children are "in love with the universe" as they begin to establish a sense of culture through nature
- In this stage, Trimble says hildren will run with what they know; metaphorically and symbolically, parents are careful to not let their children fall off cliffs (meaning parents are simply worried about their children's safety, but are also careful to keep their children from losing their innocence through the curiosity they have practiced throughout their childhood, much like Holden Caulfield in Catcher In the Rye)
#1 Childhood developmental stage: Mapmaking, spatial and symbolic skills (ages 3-4)
- Soon after age 3, we develop spatial and symbolic skills
- When children this age hear a landmark's name, they see it, like we do at our ages now
- Recognizing landmarks comes with the full development of the brain, around age 4
- Stories help us tie landmarks together (initial mapmaking skills)
- Mapmaking skills are in our DNA, so our descriptions of environments consists of landmarks
- Accurate mental mapmaking increases with active participation in our environments, like walking
- Mapmaking is a learning skill and to walk is to be part of nature; therefore, activity in nature, like crawling and playing, leads to learning
#2 Childhood developmental stage: Sense of security
- During infancy and while a toddler, a tension exists within children between safety and the unknown, and the old and the new; to disband this tension, children must develop a sense of security
- Security is established by gaining a sense of worth by connecting with the land and environment
- Exploring space and place as a child is important; Trimble says this is so important that "nowhere do humans matter more" than in nature in this stage of childhood development
#3 Childhood developmental stage: Sense of awareness and place
- By developing a relationship with nature, children have enough space to develop and invent their own personalities and identities, opposed to developing identities in the material world of a built or urban environment
- By immersing themselves in nature, children develop a sense of awareness that knowing and being are interconnected and continuous; by realizing this, children establish a psychological balance
- It's interesting and amazing that children can develop such an advanced sense of awareness and psychological balance so early in life through nature, because adults who practice yoga spend years, and sometimes a lifetime, trying to achieve a similar balance between body and mind, and awareness of place with their body in the environment
#4 Childhood developmental stage: Self-esteem and tolerance of diversity
- Children can develop self-esteem through nature because the natural world doesn't judge"
- Trimble says that elements of nature like the sun and trees can "strengthen" and "energize
- Children are taught tolerance of diversity by learning that difference is the norm by seeing the vast range of contrast among different animal species
- Children further learn to accept others for who they are and to not judge because the earth is constant and will always go on whether we wear what is considered the "right" clothes or not
#5 Childhood developmental stage: Autonomy and power
- When developing autonomy, children assert their sense of control through possession
- Children demonstrate possession by discovering and/or collecting objects, which stimulates curiosity, a trait that encourages learning
- Discovering objects establishes a sense of intimacy and uniqueness with children because that object is their own; what they found is different than what any other child finds
- Children's possessions are unique, so children themselves are also unique
- Native Americans develop power by appreciating power; for example, they see how an animal has established its power among other animals, and they appreciate that, then develop their own sense and form of power
- My thoughts: Can it work the opposite way, where Native Americans lose a sense of power this way, because by viewing and appreciating power, won't they see that the natural world is a force to be reckoned with?
- My thoughts: Children develop a sense of freedom in nature because there are no societal norms; no one is telling them what's right and what's wrong
"GOING TRUANT: THE INITIATIAN OF YOUNG NATURALISTS"Chapter 3 by Nabhan
Lack of nature in school systems:
- American author Franklin Burroughs says that "'nature education' is a contradiction of terms," because it's a cross between formal education, where you're "supposed to be," and nature, where you're "truant"
- Most schools teach that nature is a distant abstraction because nature is not integrated into the school system
- Teachers prepare students for careers spent in buildings
- Like playgrounds, recreational activities in school are structured and exist in built environments, like gyms, ball courts and pools
Nature in school systems:
- According to Nabhan, 28% of high school students do not complete their coursework
- Nabhan argues that immersion in the natural world is essential to learning because it offers a lasting value with its constant nature, opposed to the temporary (and sometimes negative) value that today's graffiti, videos and rap music offer in the urban environment
- Some programs, like Vision-Quest, founded by Bob Burton in 1972, help high school drop outs find and construct their path in life by removing troubled teens from the material trappings of urban life
- Teens who are part of Vision-Quest spend 8-10 months in nature where they grow emotionally, socially and physically
Nature as a vehicle for rite of passage:
- Today, sometimes adults with jobs involving nature are not taken seriously, and are considered "overgrown but harmless juveniles," according to Nabhan
- Nabhan says people who think this are "dead wrong" because...
- Although sometimes overlooked today, nature has always been a prominent vehicle for the rite of passage
- Nature as a vehicle for rite of passage was very popular in earlier literature, like Mowgli's transition from adolescence to adulthood in The Jungle Book, written by Rudyard Kipling in 1894
- Those who fail to go through rites of passages through nature develop a sense of immaturity because they lack tangible experiences with "symbolic touchstones" that connect the world together and explain it as a whole (like children piecing the world together as a puzzle)
Outdoor play gives children the opportunity to value nature, and see it as an important part of of our world. This is a tangible way to ensure that we help them developing environmental stewards who will be both appreciative and respectful of nature as they grow.
Here are a few ideas for incorporating natural play into children’s everyday lives:
* Find a nature trail (or any place in nature, really) and encourage children to play, rather than just hike. Help children make up a game or collect bugs or leaves
* Allow children a small patch of land as “their own.” This can be in a backyard or a school yard. One school where I worked had a children’s garden in the strip of land that ran right next to the side of the school building. Let them use their imagination to dig, garden, build, etc.
* Invest in a few inexpensive outdoor exploration tools: bug box, magnifying glass, butterfly net, shovel, spade, and compass
* Rather than working indoors, take lessons outdoors. Learn about water cycles from the true source, use nature to teach about categorization, or compose a symphony of nature sounds. Even a language or math lesson is more fun when done outside on a beautiful day
How to get your child excited about nature
Parents need to teach children in a simple but deliberate way how to understand and interact with the natural environment. If this curiosity is not stimulated, it gradually dulls as the many distractions of modern life fill the child’s interest.
When a child becomes excited by nature, he/she gains access to its inherent rewards – inspiration, entertainment, comfort and perspective. As our modern life becomes more complex and over-stimulating, an appreciation of our natural world offers the child a gift that will last a lifetime.
Start when they’re youngFirst impressions are lasting impressions. Even babes in arms, birth – 6 months old, will respond with interest to the wonders of their natural environment. The first year or two of a child’s life is a special time when the child looks to the parent for guidance in all areas of learning. Seize the moment to instill in your child an interest and a reverence for nature.
As an example, when my children were babies I would take them to a quiet spot near the house before dinnertime to listen to the evening bird songs. As each bird gave its distinct call, I would simply say the name of the bird – varied thrush, grouse, towhee, robin, woodpecker…. Invariably, my child would be fixated in silence, concentrating on the attention we gave to the sounds of nature. Beyond the learning experience, these were precious moments, rewarding for both child and parent.
Go with themYour participation is essential, as it underscores the importance of learning about our natural environment. As guide and mentor, your example sets the benchmark for your child’s level of interest in nature.
Begin by taking your child out in nature with just yourself. Avoid bringing your child’s friends along for the first few outings; children listen to their peers more than their parents and all it takes is one snicker from a friend saying ‘this is dumb’ to throw a wet blanket on your efforts.
Also, sending your child off to camp or school field trips is no guarantee that he/she will have a successful experience in wild nature. With children, social interactions can distract from their experience of nature.
Help them observeEquip your child with the means to better explore and observe the natural world, from the miniature world of the insects to the local flora and fauna, and the swirling night sky constellations.
Binoculars/monocularGive your child his/her own child-sized binocular for use during outings in nature. A monocular may be even preferable to binoculars for young children because a monocular is smaller, lightweight and easy to pack in a pocket or pack.
JournalA sturdy, hard-bound journal with blank pages enables your child to keep a record of personal observations. Coloured pencils are also useful for nature drawings or bird sketches. As journal pages gradually fill with drawings and observations, the child gains a sense of pride and accomplishment which deepens the growing bond with nature.
Local wildlife booksFind a book which details the birds, mammals and wild flora specific to your locale. Reading a guide will greatly enhance your child’s outings. The children’s book section of the library will have lots to offer.
Topographical mapsYour town’s bookstore will likely have topographic maps of your area. Pin a large (poster-size) copy on a wall at home as a reference. The child can highlight areas explored or pin small numbers that correspond with pages in their journals. Over time, the child develops an intimate knowledge of the surrounding area and its wild attractions. It’s also useful to have a laminated copy of the topo map to bring along as a pocket guide during outings.
“How can we expect to preserve and protect biodiversity if we don’t even know the names of the plants and animals that share our neighbourhood?”- Robert Bateman, wildlife artist
Let them leadAlthough you may have a preset route to follow, give preference to the child’s interests. Follow their interests, and let your child set the pace. Keep the outing easy and fun. And, you may be surprised by what your child’s keen eye can teach you.
Encourage your child to be a ‘trophy’ hunter (by camera, of course!)Keep a checklist of local wildlife and flora and try to “discover” them in the wild. Give your child a small camera to document their find, and mark it off on the checklist. By documenting their discovery, the child sees progress and can take pride in their accomplishment. Use copies of the child’s photos for Christmas cards to the relatives. This adds value to the child’s efforts.
Bring your child to a wildlife rehabilitation centerMany communities have wildlife shelters and recovery centers which provide the public with an opportunity to see local wildlife species close-up. This is also a chance for your child to see local people engaged in stewardship activities. These people are modeling to young people their dedication to wildlife.
Give your child an area to stewardWhether it’s a small wild corner of your yard, a child-sized section of a garden bed, or a nearby special spot in nature, give the child responsibility for its stewardship. For young children, this can be as simple as monitoring the changes in this area over the seasons, setting out seeds to help the birds in winter, or freshening the water in the birdbath. These seemingly small acts of stewardship instill the notion of individual responsibility for the care of our environment.
Older children can take on a task such as creating a backyard wildlife habitat, maintaining birdfeeders, or growing their own vegetable patch. It may be necessary to help the child get started, but know when to stand back and let the child take ownership.
With the threats facing our environment nearing a precipitous threshold, we must increase our efforts to teach our children the wonders of nature. This is our best assurance that they will make wise choices throughout their lives which benefit the environment and promote the values of sustainability for the benefit of all.
Greg Seaman is the founder of Eartheasy, and the father of two sons.
Practical Things You Can DoMost children are good at introducing themselves to nature; they just need a little encouragement. The garden spider, the ant highway, the bluegill taking a worm—these are all doorways into that other world, the one outside the Nintendo universe. As parents, we can help open those doors. Particularly in urban areas, exposure to nature doesn’t come naturally. We need to bring nature to our kids. We can:
- Join nature organizations, and encourage them to pay attention to kids. The National Audubon Society, the National Wildlife Federation, the Nature Conservancy, the Sierra Club or other organizations are beginning to address the breach between kids and nature. Most have monthly publications with spectacular natural photography; some have special memberships and magazines for kids.
- Take a nature break. Take children for a walk in the woods. If there isn’t one nearby, visit a local zoo. Look for insects under leaves and birds in the trees. Get dirty. Play in the mud. Stand in the rain until your clothing is soaked. Show kids how good nature can feel.
- Go camping, boating, hiking. “When we go camping, I try to tap a vein of mystery I remember when I was a child,” says John Johns, a Los Angeles businessman. “I get them up before dawn so we can see the coyotes. We hike under the moon, no flashlights. On camping trips, if the parents have a good time, the kids will have a good time. They’ll connect with nature.”
- Take nature vacations. Families that don’t enjoy camping can still vacation in natural settings by renting a mountain or beach cabin for a few days. Ski trips give kids a chance to roll in the snow. Dude ranches give family members a chance to ride horses, sleep under the stars, and pretend they are cowboys and cowgirls.
- Encourage schools to incorporate nature into the curriculum. Some schools adopt nearby canyons, fields or woods and, as part of biology class, clean up the trash, remove the non-native plants, and study the animal life. These programs help kids experience nature up close, and improve science education by making it personal and hands-on.
- Conduct family or school nature treasure hunts and nighttime explorations. Anne Lambert, mother of three and former high school teacher, quotes Rachel Carson: “It is not half so important to know as to feel” when introducing a young child to the natural world.